Review: Cape Fear National Golf Course, NC
Upon arrival we found one of the friendliest staffs around. They were welcoming, informative, talkative and just plain nice. I believe that Kemper Golf, (the managing company) has a training program for staff members that is outstanding. Everyone we met, from the bag drop to the clubhouse to the ranger, was all extremely helpful and kind.
We had a few minutes to hit the range, which has kind of a unique location. You drive out past hole 9, then across a little bridge and the range hit parallel with hole 8. Now at first you couldn’t really tell this since there are big mounds and water separating the two, but when two balls came flying our direction, we quickly were made aware of that fact. (Now to be honest, after playing hole 8, that guy that almost hit us, hit two huge slices to get over by us.) After returning to the clubhouse to get our final instructions, we spent just a little time on the putting green, and chipping area complete with bunker. The practice area just off the clubhouse is awesome, with all the short game options.
Off to the first tee we drove. There are multiple tee boxes ranging from 4800 to 7200. Because of the variety of skill level in our group, we used a couple of different tees. I played from the back tees to see the entire course. The front side starts with a straight forward mid length par 4. There were bunkers to frame the fairway and a nice big green to open with. Just be aware there isn’t as much room to the right as you think. The par 5 2nd hole is a two-fairway layout. You must hit the first one with a good tee shot to have a good shot at the second one. Now for the really big hitters 3-wood might be the best option off this tee because you can quickly run out of room off the tee. It is tough to reach in 2, but a pretty easy hole to par if you keep it in the fairway. The long par 4 3rd hole is tough. The water running up the left side keeps you from challenging the ideal line, but the ample room on the right still gives you room to bomb away. The par 3 4th hole played slightly uphill and right around 200 yards (which would be the same for all the par 3s) The par 4 5th hole is one of my favorite holes visually. There is lots of sand and the cart path goes right into the waste bunker and you drive in the waste bunker the entire length of the hole. If you hit into the bunker you will find very hard packed sand. The longer par 4 6th hole is all about the approach shot. You need a well-placed tee ball to comfortably attack this green. It feels like it is fronted by swamp and surrounded by tree. It isn’t as hard as it looks. The shorter par 4 7th again is an easy tee shot, but the danger is around the green with sand and water to the left and behind. The par 5 8th is a brute. There is water running all down the right side and trees all down the left. On top of that, even a well-struck driver that seems like it should be in the middle of the fairway can reach the water and bounce off a hill toward it. Accuracy is a must on this hole. It is also dangerous to go for it in 2. Playing to the safe part of the fairway is the best way to leave with a par; otherwise numbers could get big quickly on this hole. The front side finisher is a long par 3 over water and with water up the left side. Thankfully the hole sets up nicely to play down the right side to avoid any water, the ball kicks down and rolls onto the green.
After a quick stop at the clubhouse, off to the backside. It is down the same path as hole one and when you split over to play hole 10, which is right next to hole 1, it feels very similar. The yardage book warns about the treacherous bunker on the front left of the green, it did gobble up a bunch of our groups golf balls, but I still made the up and down. The par 5 11th hole was just getting us prepared for the ample amount of water on the backside. There are some fairway bunkers to frame your tee shot, but the second shots must stay left of the water to reach the green dry. The par 4 12th hole shouldn’t play that hard, but our group struggled with it. There are a couple of trees on the right to avoid and there is more than enough room left, even though there is water out that direction. The green is fronted by big bunkers too. The 13th was probably my favorite hole on the back nine. It has a raised fairway with water left and bunker right. The elevated tees allow you to see it all. Then you need to fire over the waste bunker to reach bowl-like green. The par 3 14th hole plays again to 200 yards and is plenty big for even a little miss-hit. The longer par 5 15th hole is pretty straight forward off the tee, but make sure to stay on the right side with all the water on the left side. The par 4 16th hole has another waste bunker all up the right side, but this hole has plenty of room to stay left, and even a bail out area on the approach. The long par 17th played tough. The tree line down the right side is dangerous and avoiding the left bunker seemed difficult. But even tougher was the approach shot with a green that kind of juts out into the pond on the right side. The finishing par 3 was a nice way to end. It did have a forced carry over wetlands, but the green is huge.
When it came to conditions, the course was simply outstanding. It was probably the best-conditioned course we played in the area. It was firm and fast. The bent grass greens were smooth and true. It just felt much drier than the other courses. I don’t think I had one bad lie all day, there was always consistent grass under my ball and the turf was tight.
While making an hour drive isn’t everyone’s cup of tea to play golf, you won’t be disappointed by Cape Fear. If you are in Wilmington, NC, then it is a must play. While the name sounds intimidating, the course plays tough, but fair. If you pick the right tees, you can really enjoy your round. Don’t be afraid, make the drive to Cape Fear National at Brunswick Forest; you will be glad you played it.